Day 18: Can People Change? (Acts 9:20-31)
Today’s Passage: Acts 9:20-31
How do you answer the question, “Can people change?” I know folks who say “Yes”, and others who state unequivocally, “No”!
Here is what I believe, with God all things are possible. That phrase may sound a wee bit “cute” to some. However, I believe it. I have seen it. In fact, I resemble it! Back in Acts 7:1-60 I shared my own U-Turn.
To be clear, God doesn’t wave a wand and make you all wonderful. Rather, you enter a lifelong process of transformation.
Transformation: it’s a process.
Today we read of Paul, and all his exuberance, now for Jesus. Consider what has changed and what has not.
What has changed is his view of Jesus; it is radically changed.
What has not changed is his modus operandi. Paul is a full-throttle kind-a-guy. He doesn’t do things half-way. He is all-in for Jesus, and of course it is freaking people out!
As you read the text, from his preaching in the synagogue, to his escape from Damascus, and all the rest, let me ask a question. Are you seeing just Paul?
The story of Paul is really the story of God and Paul. The story of a life submitted to God, any one’s life, is a story of God with that person. The promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is 100% real.
Let’s consider, briefly, how this operates.
Turning to Jesus means more than some intellectual belief. Turning to Jesus means:
You realize that you are not perfect, that you mess up (the fancy word is sin), and that you need God.
You realize that despite your imperfection, God loves you.
He loves you enough to die for you, and to live in you.
He loves you like a perfect parent—perfect parents don’t give up on their children—for in fact that is what you are. John 1:14 says, “For all who believe in him, he gave them the power to become children of God…”
You realize this in your head and your heart—and you begin a new life, seeking to love God.
You realize that loving him means obeying him. Obeying him leads to the best you.
Which brings you all the way back to Point #1, you mess up, you need God.
Can people change? When that life is submitted to God, God can bring about change. In fact, in Philippians 1:6, God’s Word tells us that God will complete the work he began in us.
For me there are two points where I seem like I am always departing from this transformation process.
First, I tend to move away from God. It goes something like this. I start by being close to him, praying to him, letting him actually lead. I stop trying to force every moment of every day to bend to my will, and I wait for him. Sure, I don’t just sit on the couch. I work. I set myself to the tasks God has placed before me. But I don’t overly force or manipulate others. All of that is on a good day.
Because God is leading, I have some success. I like that. So, I continue to work or pursue some path. Yet there is a shift. My prayer time is less. I get distracted with “doing”. I start sensing all that I must do. It might even go well for a while, which only leads to me paying less attention to God. After a while I come to my wits-end. I want to cry out to God, but quite frankly I am embarrassed that I have yet again behaved this way. Doesn’t he get tired of me coming to him again, saying I am sorry?
The short and complete answer is NO! God will never leave or forsake you (or me).
The second point is about God. God desires our full submission, our obedience. We cannot actively wall off a part of our lives from God. And because He will not forsake us or leave us, and because He will complete the work He began in us—we ought to expect that God is going to have his way with us. He will chisel and grind and goad—and do whatever it takes—for us to be transformed—that is what a loving parent does.
In the coming days, you and I will be spending time with Paul and God. We will see how God uses Paul and also continues to transform him.
My point in all this is that it is easy to be in awe of Paul, but we should be more in awe of God working in Paul.